I didn’t know you, but I wish I would have been able to. I wish I could have given you hope by telling you what we have in common, how things worked out for me, how things could work out for you too.
You were a nineteen-year-old filmmaker. You were an intern with The Trevor Project, the nationally known GLBTQ youth suicide prevention hotline. On December 10, 2011, you posted an “It Gets Better” video in which you told a heartbreaking tale of being raised in an “extremist Christian” household. You spoke of being bullied from kindergarten through high school as well as at home. You told how your mother had performed an exorcism in an attempt to “cure” you.
A month later, you killed yourself.
Hearing your story brought me up short, because I, too, have been the subject of an exorcism. When I was nineteen, my mother discovered I was gay. She started fasting and praying that I would be cured. One evening she and her Christian fundamentalist friends held an exorcism in absentia in her living room to cast the demon of homosexuality out of me. (The exorcism was unsuccessful.)
My mother started writing a book which she thought would be about how her son had been prayed straight. But she later wrote: “As I watched him living his life, I was the one who began to change my ideas.” As it turned out, her book was subtitled “A mother struggles to accept her gay son and discovers herself.” That book, by Mary Borhek, was My Son Eric, and for many years she spoke out as an activist for GLBT rights.(Since my mother wanted to use pseudonyms in the book, I chose “Eric” for mine. So we also share a first name, sort of.)
I was very lucky—I was blessed with other supportive people who helped me deal with my mother’s initial reaction to my gayness. But as an intern at The Trevor Project, you certainly had supportive people around you too. Tragically, their support and love evidently was not able to overcome the years of painful bullying and other assaults you endured.
I cringe at some of the hateful things I hear about GLBTQ people from the mouths of supposed Christians. The words hurt. They wound. Sometimes they kill. They are the opposite of Christian love and charity. They are not the gospel that Jesus came to offer us.
How many more of our young people will have to be sacrificed on the altars of, in your words, “extremist Christian” hate before we as a society say, “No more”? I hope not too many. I would prefer none.
Eric James, wherever you are, I hope you are at peace and I hope you can forgive your tormentors. Truly, they knew not what they were doing.
Sincerely and sorrowfully,
(a/k/a Steve Lenius, a/k/a Your Humble Columnist)
P.S. You made a short film titled “Invisible Creatures” that showed such potential. The lighting, camerawork and composition were beautiful. I’m so sorry you won’t have a chance to make any more films. I would have wanted to see them.